DAVIDSON, WILLIAM (1922– ), U.S. industrialist, philanthropist, sportsman. Born in Detroit, Mich., Davidson received a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Michigan in 1947 and a Juris Doctor degree in law from Wayne State University in 1949. Guardian Industries, a small, family windshield company owned by a relative, was 23 years old when Davidson joined it in 1955 after service in World War ii and a short law career. In 1957 Davidson became president of Guardian, which bought glass and converted it into safety glass for windshields, and over the years Davidson transformed it into a multibillion-dollar, multinational company with more than 60 facilities on five continents. It now makes auto glass, fiberglass insulation, glass panels for office buildings, and other products as well as distributing building materials to retail stores. Davidson took Guardian public in 1968 and bought it back for himself in 1985. In the early 2000s it had 19,000 employees in 20 countries.
In addition, Davidson became majority owner of the Detroit Pistons professional basketball team in 1974; he owns the Detroit Shock of the Women's National Basketball Association, two arena professional football teams, the Tampa Bay Lightning professional hockey team, the dte Energy Music Theater, the Meadow Brook Music Festival, and the Palace of Auburn Hills, the city where Guardian is headquartered. His hockey and basketball team won world championships one after the other in 2004, a fabulous achievement for a sportsman.
A high school track star, Davidson is a member of the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame and the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. He is a longtime benefactor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. In 1992 he gave $30 million to the University of Michigan to set up the William Davidson Institute, which is dedicated to helping nations in Eastern Europe develop free-market economies.
Davidson gave millions to finance archaeological excavations around Jerusalem. In 1994, he gave the Jewish Theological Seminary of America $15 million for a graduate school of Jewish education, the largest donation made to a single institution of Jewish education in the United States. Davidson earlier was chairman of the United Jewish Appeal for Detroit and past president of Congregation Shaaray Zedek in Southfield, Mich.
[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]